Date: Unknown (log received February 15, 2011)
This story yet continues, as Raiga and Hoiishime venture further into the Hitodama Highlands. Though Hoiishime seems to finally have become accustomed to the strong aura of Spiritual Energy as well as the ‘visuals’ of lost souls, Raiga’s reason for being here is still yet unfulfilled. The encountering of a strange place at the Highland’s center brings both deeper understanding of this place’s tale, and… the introduction of a stranger new entity.
"Sensory Training… To The Extreme!!! Part II - A Hokage’s Leftovers and a Legend’s Stillness"
Hitodama Highlands [Land of Grass]
The Hitodama Highlands are essentially an elevated expanse of territory within the Land of Grass — a plateau of sorts — that was once level with the surrounding country-side. Towering cliffs make walls of earth and stone in all directions except to the west. Much of the Highlands are composed of fields, but there is also a forest, a large lake, and half of the remains of a fort that was destroyed when the Highlands were created with Earth Release Ninjutsu.
All of the Hitodama Highlands are considered haunted, and perhaps even cursed, thanks to the Battle of Hashi Hashi, in which Senju Hashiramako battled the Two-Tailed Monster Cat after it appeared and slaughtered a large number of Senju clansmen. Their spirits are believed to linger in this place… The bridge that was built leading down from the Highlands to the Gaza Plains is where the name 'Hashi Hashi' came from. 'Hashi' for 'bridge', created by 'Hashiramako'.
As he listened to Raiga talk of these things, Hoiishime's mind was taken back. Memories flashed in his mind, during his duties at Jinrai Shrine. Last rites over the dead, was a monk's duty indeed. It consisted of not only purification, and prayer over the body, but also tending to the needs of the bereaved. The many who he had encountered over his few years as an official monk, all experienced something different, however one thing remained the same. They all wondered truly what happened to the dead they missed. Some wished to know last wishes, especially of those whom died either when the family could not be around. Other ninja lost comrades to death from an enemy, only to never find out who the killer was.
As helpful as the small monk could be, even he could only offer seemingly empty promises of a hope that existed outside of death. Hoiishime could never shake the unresolved however, and often these wounds from those deaths were left for time. Imagine if one was able to at least know for certain what they could do for those who could not stay.
A small fist would be balled up, the monk seeming to take grip of himself. Shivering ceased as he took a full stand, and before long, a presence behind him cause his body to turn. A small child, with three kunai paced in wounds at the chest, lower stomach, and shoulder, stood pupil-less and dull… Hoii's eyes widened, as he reached a hand out at the small kid, wondering just how real this all was. His hand would drop slowly as Hoii slowly turned to Raiga. His face was calm, but not stoic. It was one of plain wonder, with a slight bit of courage. "He died a bit too young… Him mother.. da poor ting."
Raiga nods — mostly to himself. "The Clan Wars were a terrible time period. I do not know if you participated personally or not… But that boy was far from being the only child that had to fight. Sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad, but mostly they never even knew why they were fighting or what they hoped to accomplish. They simply followed where the adults lead, trusting in their elders to know what the right thing to do was."
Raiga's voice is a mix of anger and sadness, but only part of it has to do with the actions of others. Mostly he is directing his fury and despair at his own actions during the Wars — not that this would be evident. Shaking his head, the towering man says, "Well, we are ready to progress with your training. The first step has been taken. I have sensed it for a long time now — for the four years I have remained in Kusagakure as one of its Jounin, there has been an aberration existing here in the Hitodama Highlands. I very specifically say 'existing' rather than 'living' or 'dwelling', because the first term implies what I am referring to is alive, and the second term implies that this entity has made a home for itself — that it somehow 'belongs' here. It is neither alive nor does it belong here."
Raiga takes a deep breath and then begins to walk forwards, he carefully does not tread upon any remains even though he cuts directly through the field. As he passes, he occasionally inclines his head to a spirit without meeting its eyes or turns to bow more formally before continuing onwards. To one not initiated in the sensing of spirits, Raiga would look quite strange indeed… But to Hoiishime, it would be perfectly clear now.
"Indeed. I don' be a nin durin' da' time. Only a monk… Da monk's.. we did a lot wit da people, mostly helpin' wit' da dead, and even trying to counsel those who The Wars troubled. Even taught da poor a means to defend demselves from da bandits in da land. Hence da formation of the Shime Style of Grapplin'. Wasn't dat far away from what I be doin' meself probably. I be a child, followin' da advice of da adults of me shrine for a while." It was amazing monk, being able to talk this plainly amidst all of the aberrations and souls he had been beginning to see now. It was everything but normal, and yet Hoiishime was managing to come to grips with what he was seeing. He thought of his own past, and counted himself grateful, but even then, his thoughts generated guilt. Things could easily have been the other way.
When Raiga finally signaled the beginning of the next round of training, a sharp gulp was audible to his ears. Hoiishime was trying to steel himself against any fear. He was already shaken quite a bit from the ordeal of actually now being able to feel the presence of so many spirits. Now the smaller Mednin has to deal with some being whose very nature even provoke Raiga himself to see of it. As the man walked over bones and the like, so would Hoiishime. He got the point well. Dead littered this place for miles around. That didn't mean he should disrespect them. Who knows how they would react?
Raiga leads Hoiishime through the fields, until they reach an area with fewer skeletons. It becomes easier not to tread on them. Eventually, the dense forest becomes close enough that the two cross over the tree line. The change in lighting and in 'feel' is nearly instantly. It was night out in the fields before the sun had even set. Here, within the forest, it is not just night — it is truly >dark<. It is hard to see anything beyond a couple feet in a direction other than where they just came from.
More than once, Hoiishime may feel things brushing against him, and potentially the scratchy, skin-crawling sensations of small creatures scrabbling on his flesh. Spiders, perhaps? Raiga seems not to care. He just brushes them off without looking. Eventually, the journey takes the two of them to the center of the forest, where a lake lies. The water is utterly black. No moonlight reflects off its surface. At the center of the lake is a twisted tree in the shape of a clutching hand. The hand reaches up from the watery depths, and appears to be about 25 to 30 feet tall. Small balls of ghostly fire that can be recognized now as Spiritual Energy — perhaps even spirits themselves — float about over the water's surface, hovering in the air in this clearing, and cluster in large numbers about the hand-tree and its fingertips.
The lights are strange, supernatural, beautiful… And yet sad.
As the path got easier, so did Hoiishime's ability to simply ignore the spirits, though he could not help /but/ to feel their presences now. It was as if there was no way to close his senses off in this place. Just walking and focusing on the path about him took a lot more effort now. For now that he could 'see' the spirits of those who died here with such clarity, there was indeed a lot more to see. Spirits of those lost to war and death went for miles. Most of them seemed in ritual, doing something resembling task. Others, were seeming to re-live the last experiences before they died, calling out names, and orders for some who were ninja. Many asked questions, seeking out what sounded like love ones, all the while seeming to feel terror at what was going on about them.
As long as Hoiishime kept quiet, none of the spirits seemed to react to his presence. It was as if the monk was more invisible to them, than they were now to him.
The tree-line was approached with caution. Another source of unknown, Hoii hurried in closer to Raiga, just before darkness enveloped them both. No light for sight some how seemed comforting for a moment. He didn't have to see some of the many half maimed, and utterly injured ghost who wandered aimlessly. The sensations weren't ignorable by a long shot. After having experienced being surrounded by other worldly souls however, they had no chance of creeping Hoiishime out any further. He would dust himself off casually until they would reach light yet again. This same light shown upon an area that was almost sacred. Hoii marveled at the sight of the hand, and even more so at the balls of spiritual energy that floated about.
The color was a tad bit depressing. Hoiishime wasn't finding it as gloomy as having dead people all around him. He may marvel at the sights further until Raiga beckoned him once more.
Raiga does not beckon Hoiishime onwards. "This is our destination," he says quietly. Nearly a whisper, really. It could be that the near-sacred lake has the same awe-inspiring effect on the Yotsuki man as it does on Hoiishime… Or it may be that there is some reason to not draw attention to oneself. "I was not a witness to the battle, but I have heard from those who were. Very few survived here in the Highlands while the battle was going on. Most were left below to wonder what might be going on up here. But those few who remained for the duration of the battle described Hashiramako having grown this tree in the shape of a hand in order to grab the Two-Tails and hold it still while she sealed its Chakra. This tree actually >held a Tailed Beast< — even if it was only for a short time."
Raiga takes a moment to look around as though expecting to see something, then continues. "The Spiritual Energy that drifts around here is not from any one spirit. It is simply 'fragments'… Pieces of souls that were torn from their bodies and set adrift. The Two-Tails did not take its brief captivity in good humor. It tried to >destroy< the Hokage utterly. Instead it only succeeded in shattering the souls of her friends, allies, and family. I am not entirely sure why its attacks failed to touch her… I have a guess, but >only< that." Finally, he begins walking forwards. "Come. We are going to put these tortured pieces of the once-living to rest. Perhaps that will draw out the abomination that lurks in the area." When he reaches the lake, he just keeps walking, right across the surface. The 'spirit fires' — hitodama — move out of the way of their own accord. Perhaps they do not wish to be tread upon, or perhaps they simply wish to be courteous and not get in the way.
Small little flames danced, with Hoiishime merely as an audience. He attempted to count the beats, looking for a rhythm to feel, only to have Raiga acknowledge what he already felt. The meaning of such a place still eluded him for the absolute longest time. Was it simply an monument from another age? Or maybe it was a shrine of some kind? Hoii moved to question, only for Raiga to be much quicker with an answer? "So, the battle wit' da Hokage came to conclusion in dis' very spot?!!! Ere' be where da Two Tails be stopped?!" Hoiishime felt his legs wanting to move in for a closer, his curiosity seeming to try and break down exactly what made the wooden hand so special. As soon as he would attempt to move, Raiga had began to speak once more.
His words regarded the task at hand… so to speak.
As Hoiishime was left only to listen, his body made a full turn just to face Raiga. He had to incline his head far back, just to get a look at the man's face. His eyes widened with every mention of the Hokage's near destruction, and his jaw dropped showing of his amazement at Raiga only being able to guess what was possible. But nothing seemed to be more shocking to Hoiishime, than the simple fact that what ever was left over form that fight, was for them to soon lure. "…You mean.. We be ere' to… catch something??! Even worst… Are you sayin' dat, the Two Tails, be leavin' a ting' behind that be keepin' dis curse active?" Hoiishime answer some how lied in the task that even the Hokage herself couldn't complete. The hand that kept a Bijuu bound, was now part of the scenery to Hoiishime's greatest challenge yet.. The monk's knee's quaked in rebuttal to his need to stand firm.
His will to follow was the only thing to push him forward.
Raiga nods firmly to Hoiishime's questions as he strides across the water purposefully. Yet, he does not puff out his chest or keep his chin up or otherwise show any indication of 'boldness'. He may know exactly what he is doing, but that does not give any excuse to be disrespectful of the dead. "As I told you before, there is something unnatural here. There is some entity or at least a presence that perpetuates the suffering of the dead. We can not properly tend to their last rites until we have dealt with their tormentor. I know not what manner of being could have formed… But given that the Two-Tails's power over spirits is considerable, I imagine it is nothing that belongs in this world. It may be horrible or it may be beautiful, but its existence will continue to force the dead to play out their final moments or to simply wander in agony for eternity, unless it is disposed of. Please keep your mind open and your senses sharp. Simply fighting the creature is unlikely to be enough to inconvenience it, let alone get rid of it."
When he reaches the small 'island' at the center of the lake, the teacher of the Raikage turns around and sits on the sand. Crossing his legs underneath him, Raiga closes his eyes and remains… Perfectly still. The ghostly, blue-white hitodama seem to pause in their floating as though detecting something. Around Raiga's eyes, dark-blue markings fade into existence, almost like body paint. His cheeks suddenly bear feather patterns… Only they are 3-D. His nose grows much longer and becomes hooked, looking a lot like a bird's beak. The Hitodama begin to float towards Raiga like moths to a flame, hovering around him in an increasingly dense cloud of Spiritual Energy.
The words Raiga spoke were instructions. 'Keep your mind open and your senses sharp,' he had said. It was not his intention for Hoiishime to simply stare at the strange transformation that Raiga undergoes. He wants the young monk to be on the look out for the… 'Abomination', whatever that may be.
"…I see." A rather shy and short reply to a rather hard and crazy circumstance. It was as if he were giving a mere 'no' to a bargain for his life. Hoii wanted to show he was courageous. However, he couldn't help the fear he now was being filled with. His beaded wrist rattled as a hand of prayer was raised to his face. His eyes closed, as his voice trembled out prayers for strength and courage. Both for himself and for the man who he called teacher. Once Hoii had summed up all he could , he moved to act, lifting his eyes toward the objective, in form of the hand that had put suffering to an temporary end in this world. The trouble had been saved, only for life to be protected from death. Now, two ninja had been attempting to end the suffering of those whose not sparred.
When he was told to be on guard, Hoiishime would find himself doing just that, and while Raiga took on one form, he found himself yet taking on another. Hoiishime's body would slowly seem to glow, as a nod was held in reply to Raiga. Soon, Hoiishime's own form had begun to change. Blue chakra, enveloped his form. What made the form even more peculiar, was the way the aura seemed to change, instantly converting thanks to an inherent sort of Nature Transformation. It gave off pure water vapor, and something akin to a mist. The same vapor, had been bubbling along the boy's hands and forearm, as well as his feet and shins. Even his eyebrows foamed over as Hoii kept his eyes closed. Once they had open, an inverse of white and bright blue, surrounded a teardrop shaped pupil as blue as the chakra which surrounded his being.
When all was said and done, Hoiishime's own trait, one more of a gift rather than one of hard work, had shown itself to any who dared face him. Hoii stood, ready, but at the same time not, hardly knowing what he and Raiga would soon face. He slowly turned his head to signal he was ready, only for his own eyes to widen… Raiga, had experienced his own transformation. Something mystical was given off at that moment. An energy? For now, Hoiishime called it the unknown. Raiga was needing time.. Had Hoii needed to lay something on the line for the rest of these suffering souls? The question, was empowering him.. The answer still yet remained a mystery.
As Hoiishime's transformation occurs and he extends his senses into the area, the Hitodama that crowd around Raiga nearly hide him from view. Why are they being attracted to his position suddenly? What is it that he is doing that can call the attention of the bits and pieces of destroyed souls? They should have only a vague sort of awareness — if that. But perhaps that >is< why they are approaching him. Whatever he is doing is calling to their instincts rather conscious thought. This is something primal, something beyond the concepts of Chakra or jutsu, that is present in all of the planet's creatures. Can Hoiishime sense it? Not by a long shot. But the resulting Chakra that is mixed with whatever Raiga is doing should be detectable at least. It is subtly different from normal Chakra, but in what way remains undefined.
Then such questions may be wiped from thought as something begins to approach. The sound of trees creaking, the sight of their tops shaking atop the forest, the swarming of moths, fireflies, and a handful of birds that have dared to live here all going up into the air, all indicate something is coming. But that indication is incorrect. The thing is not coming yet… It's just waking up.
A phantasmal, glowing creature that appears to be made of a mix of liquid and the night sky itself rises up from the forest to the north. It rises, and rises, and rises. It towers over everything else, hundreds of feet high at least. It is vaguely humanoid, but where the head should be there is only an empty space atop its stump of a neck. An odd, 'soundless noise' echoes through the air.
Raiga shows no sign of being aware or of intending to do anything. Is he really leaving this up to Hoiishime!?
The state Hoiishime assumed, did help him to become much closer to his sense of chakra. It also helped him believe he was capable enough to defend whatever was coming, if the need arose. However, just as much as Hoiishime was not capable of sensing the minute subtlety of what called the Hitodama to Raiga, he felt himself deficient in being able to bring about any change to this predicament.
This whole scenario, seemed based upon the unachievable.
As light seemed to glow brighter, Raiga 'calling out' to the broken pieces of the damned and dead, Hoii began to feet the complicated mix of chakra and whatever else blending behind him. It prompted him to look on, his eyes widening to the point of irritation. Just as his mind began to ponder this latest series of events, more was to come. His head turned suddenly. Animals, and insects crying and escaping in fear. Even the tree seemed to cower in the presence of something much larger, and mysterious than even the presence of men's souls. To imply that Hoiishime simply felt this, was an understatement. The cold that was felt only in his mind, caused his very bones to quake madly, the boy's lips turning as blue as the aura that swirled around him.
Oh, the insignificance the monk felt!! Such a being existing about him, being large and utterly there and not there simultaneously. In some ways, its beauty was apparent. However, Hoii's sense for aesthetics numbed with every meter this 'anomaly' rose. Did it actually have no head? No eyes to stare downward at Hoii? Not a nose to smell of the monk and his mentor's presence? With all these sizable entities about him, including both Raiga, and this 'thing', Hoiishime couldn't help but feel microscopic, humbled in this entire scheme of things. The 'roar' as it seemed, shook Hoiishime, and with a trembling voice, the boy managed only to voice, "I-It-It's coming!!!!!!", before he himself managed to stand his ground.
Whatever ground Hoii firmed himself on now soon felt like mere sand beneath his feet. The creatures arrival, caused his knees to go into chaotic spasms. Hoii looked up… And felt himself moving down..
Raiga gives no indication of hearing or planning to respond to Hoiishime's announcement. The 'spook fires' move around in great agitation, seemingly, bobbing to and fro with increased speed, franticness, and somehow… Urgency.
The creature gradually begins to lean forward, more slime pouring from its body and into the lake. The already non-reflective water turns poison-green and lava-red in a mix of lightless colors where the deathly ooze lands. The spirits no longer seem willing to hang around Raiga and in a sudden flurry of movement, they just take off in a cloud in the direction exactly >opposite< from where the giant monster is. It does not seem to take kindly to this and the lengthy process of bending over is interrupted. Instead, one long arm with tapering, dripping fingers on its hand reaches up ponderously, reaching out for the escaping soul fragments!
And still, Raiga does nothing. Is it really all up to Hoiishime!?
To Be Continued..